Many of my generation have grandfathers who served in WWII. Each have their individual stories, whether they were in the Pacific, Europe or just waiting. My Papa never talked about it, but he was one of the thousands of men who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Knowing that has always sent a sense of pride and a chill of reality whenever I see a film depicting that historic day. The Longest Day chronicles the events just before and through the D-Day invasion.
Throughout the film, we are shown the events as they unfold from multiple perspectives. There are British and American troops waiting anxiously on whether or not they will invade, some in the rain on cramped boats for days. We see German officers more interested in their war games, not expecting the Allies to take the risk of invading in bad weather. There is also the French resistance, waiting for codes over the radio. From seeing each angle, the cause and effect is very clear and gives the viewer a wonderfully informed look at D-Day.
Sadly, to depict all angles of the invasion,the film sacrifices nearly all character development. Though the film boasts its large cast with big name actors, there is not enough time spent with any one character to make him more than a flimsy caricature. John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Sean Connery, Red Buttons, Richard Burton and Robert Mitchum are only a small fraction of the cast. The main problem is that there are simply too many characters to show in this small space of time. Directors Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki and Darryl F. Zanuck seemed to realize this might be a problem, so they tried to help us out by putting up each character’s name and rank as they are introduced in the beginning. I applaud the effort, but there’s still too many to keep track. One historical day, from multiple vantage points, boiled down to three hours of film can only show these characters as vague figures such as British paratrooper, American Private, German officer, and French civilian.
The visual aspect of The Longest Day is absolutely astounding. The black and white cinematography and thought out camera angles bring out the perfect details of the many sets. One image that sticks in my mind is the German slogans carved in a wooden beam in a building where German soldiers are shooting at the Allies from as they are moving into the town. Multiple times we are shown aerial long-shots of soldiers moving up the beach or into towns. These shots really reflect what a large scale this film was made on, how many nameless extras worked together with no CGI. And the action scenes are filmed precisely, with real explosions sending dirt and smoke flying into the air, again with no fancy computer tricks.
I would suggest seeing The Longest Day if you are interested in an in depth view of D-Day from multiple perspectives. While the individual stories are sub-par, the film does an excellent job of showing the cause and effect of each event throughout D-Day. The classic actors aren’t shown enough to really draw a fan in. I believe Henry Fonda has only one scene, and Sean Connery has less then five minutes of screen time. Your fair-weather viewer would probably prefer Saving Private Ryan, with its modern effects, more heartfelt story and strictly American point of view. However, film and history buffs should see The Longest Day, if not both.
“You remember it. Remember every bit of it, ’cause we are on the eve of a day that people are going to talk about long after we are dead and gone.”